MOGADISHU, Somalia – Ali Said Omar has lived in Mogadishu long enough to know that the only lasting condition in this seaside capital is war.
"Somalia is like an unexploded bomb," the peace activist said Monday, a week after the government drove out a militant Islamic group and took over this notoriously violent city.
But many here believe the only chance for real stability in Somalia lies with international peacekeepers — not with the government, which controlled just one town before Ethiopia intervened in the past 10 days and provided the administration with tanks and MiG fighter jets.
"There is a power vacuum already," said Omar, 29. "Everybody has taken his own weapons back. How can the government say it's in control?"
Mogadishu has been in a state of wary calm since government and Ethiopian troops rolled in on the heels of a fleeing militant group, the Council of Islamic Courts. Shots from Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns ring out daily on the sweltering, pockmarked streets, and three warlords who once ruled the city are back in town.
Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi acknowledges his government needs the assistance of an international force, but the idea is fraught with tension.
A U.N. peacekeeping force, including U.S. troops, had arrived in 1992, but the experiment in nation-building ended when fighters loyal to clan leader Mohamed Farah Aided shot down a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter and battled American troops, killing 18 servicemen.
Senior Western diplomats are pushing for an African-led peacekeeping force in Somalia as soon as possible to help stabilize the country, said a U.S. government official on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the media.
Uganda said it had a battalion of 1,000 troops ready to go in a few days. Nigeria has also promised troops, Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.
A group of seven regional countries, known as IGAD, proposed a peacekeeping force for Somalia two years ago, but fighting inside the country prevented a deployment. The United Nations endorsed the plans last month, but the violence again made any deployment impossible.
The push comes as the government tries to establish its presence in the capital for the first time.
Gedi said that, starting Tuesday, Somalis have three days to surrender their weapons before his troops "forcibly extract" them — an immense and wildly ambitious plan in a country awash with guns after a 15-year civil war.
A weekend explosion that killed a woman near the Ramadan Hotel heightened fears that Islamic fighters still in the city were planning an Iraq-style guerrilla war.
The Islamic group's strict interpretation of Islam drew comparisons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, although many Somalis credited it with bringing a semblance of order to a country that has seen little more than anarchy for more than a decade.
"I don't think anyone will be able to bring security and stability like the courts did," said grocer Hamdi Nur Kabiye, 28. "But if anyone can bring order to this chaos, I will welcome them, even if they are foreign troops."
Several Mogadishu residents said they want international peacekeepers — if only to get rid of the Ethiopian troops. Predominantly Muslim Somalia and Ethiopia, with its large Christian population, fought a war in 1977.
At the seaport, Ethiopian soldiers stood next to a tank, smiling and taking pictures.
Hawa Osman, a mother of three, said their presence was humiliating. "I haven't eaten for three days," she said. "I'm not happy that my country is under occupation."
Somalia has been without effective government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and turned on each other.
Allowing peacekeepers into Somalia was among the issues that divided the Cabinet last year. Some warlords-turned-ministers said Somalia did not need outsiders. They went to Mogadishu to prove they could make it secure, but failed.
Omar Mohamed Abdulle, 49, a lawyer who works for a non-governmental organization, said peacekeepers should not be concerned about a repeat of the killings from 1993, which inspired the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
"Back then, the warlords were all-powerful and they were against the peacekeepers," he said. "Now, the peacekeepers could help prevent this country from returning to civil war."